Iowa Trout Fishing Part 1 — About the Equipment

Blog note —  I am sorry for having to turn on the comment moderation.  Foreign spammers were blasting the blog with poorly constructed spam comments and dangerous URLs.  I am grateful for your comments and will do my best to approve and respond to them quickly.   —  VT


Grandma Helen Harris and the future “Van Trekker”. Not shown is my sister and Grandpa Glenn Harris.  This was around 1978.


Welcome to the blog.  Though sometime back I wrote a post about trout fishing equipment and bait, this time I’ve decided to do a three part series more precisely detailing things.

I’ve been fishing for trout in Northeast Iowa since as far back as the early 1970s… Back then it was at Backbone Park in Delaware County.  Grandma and Grandpa Harris used fly rods and bait and we always kept our catch… later and frying them up for the family to enjoy.  There was no drive for competition or catch-and-release back in those days.  If anyone was going for a “personal best” you didn’t hear about.  People were courteous not to crowd others out.

Nowadays, I’m seeing a disturbing trend.  Younger people show up on stocking day, catch-and-release 20-30 fish, and try to get a “personal best” sized fish.  They wreak havoc on the tiny streams and brag about their catches on Facebook.  Is it still possible to catch a limit of fish and enjoy them?  Yes, but it’s getting a little more difficult… but there are a lot of hungry fish ready to satisfy hungry anglers.  By the end of the series much of what I’ve learned and use often will be shared!


Poles, Reels and Tackle.  
I’ve caught hundreds of fish using very inexpensive equipment.  There’s no need to spend a fortune on high dollar gear.  I use collapsible 6′ rods and carry them in the van.  Look for some that are light action.  You can find these poles on eBay or Amazon for $10 or less in most cases.  I recently ordered four for just $4 apiece and waited two weeks for them to arrive from China.  What a deal!


Light and reliable, the Zebco 33 Micro is a wonderful spinning reel for the price.


The reels I prefer are Zebco model 33 micro.  These tiny spinning reels (less than $20) cast the light line smoothly and are reliable over time.  Unfortunately, the line they come with is crap.  I’d recommend using 6# clear line (clear is a must!) and immediately restringing the reels.  Inexpensive Berkely Trilene line (available at Wal-Mart) has brought home a lot of trout… and it costs about $5 per spool.



Hooks range from cheap to costly.  Catch and release (“CNR”) bait fishing guys often use small salmon egg hooks because they do minimal damage to the fish. I often buy these inexpensive hooks in a pack of 6 (at Wal-Mart) with plastic leaders attached.  Using fingernail clippers, it’s easy to cut the line off.  The cost is minimal ($1.29 or so for six)


Snelled hooks are cheap and effective. Just take the line off and store a bunch for some cheap trout catching adventures.


#20, the smallest in this photo, are about 1/4″ tall. They do great with trout and hook your fingers just as easily.


The other option is to use something like these tiny #20 Mustad 35518 treble hooks.  They do more damage to the fish but for those of us who do not catch-and-release, that doesn’t matter.    The hooks are very costly.  25 hooks usually run about $13 or more.  I’ve learned that if a friend borrows your pole, give him the cheap salmon egg hooks!  (They don’t hold the bait as well but they are less than half the cost)


Tiny “B” or “BB” sinkers are available just about anywhere and they are very cheap!


Sinkers.  Trout fishing doesn’t require a lot of weight on the line.  Most creeks in Iowa are shallow and often pretty still.  Even if you’re fishing in current, one or two size B or BB split shot sinkers (6 to inches above the bait) are usually sufficient.  A few anglers will use a very small egg sinker above a tiny split shot.  This “slip rig” allows the line to sit on the bottom;  the fish only feels the weight of the small sinker since the line slips through the egg sinker.  I don’t use a slip rig for trout and never have… but a few friends do.


Spinners.  In 40+ years of trout fishing, I’ve only fished with spinners a handful of times.  There was seldom ever a need to!  Trout like flashy lures and in most conditions they will be attracted to a spinner.  With bait, you might have to try more kinds of colors, flavors, etc.  To me it’s more fun and challenging with real bait instead.  However, I do keep a couple Mepps Black Fury spinners on hand.  They work great.

Bobbers.  Few people use them.  Trout streams in Iowa a pretty shallow.  If you must use a bobber, use a small one about the size of a large cherry.  Even then the fish will likely see it.  Unless fishing in a pond, I never use a bobber for trout fishing.


Hemostats… Better than needle nose pliers because they lock.


Hook removal.  Though this tool is not used for catching the fish, a person should have a hemostat on hand for hook removal.  Trout usually get caught in two ways:  either in the lip or deep in their gullet.  Removing hardware from the lip is usually no problem.  I’m good at dislodging a treble hook from deep inside the fish with just a finger but for many, it can be a challenge.  The hemostat tool works great.  By the way, here’s a neat little tip… When threading a line through a small hook, clamp the hook in the tool.  It makes the process much easier and you don’t drop a 50 cent hook that way!


A very nice brood trout caught in Decorah just days after Dad died in 2019. It was one of the very best and most memorable trips in all my angling life!


That’s about all for this first installment about equipment for trout fishing on the cheap.  The next post will be about various kinds of bait I love to use.  After that will be some tips, tricks, and pics.  I hope to have the second installment posted by Monday night or Tuesday morning.

About a week from now is Trek Fest.  As Spock would say having next Saturday off is “fortuitous”;  I’ll be attending many activities that day in Riverside, Iowa.  It’s going to be a LOT of fun and there will likely be a couple postings after that with many pics.  Then it is on to the 4th of July!  In other words, stay tuned!  There will be a lot of blog updates in the next to weeks.

Take care!  Safe and happy camping!

Brad and Jenny and Duke
Jones County, Iowa


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About VanTrekker

I am a former vandweller in Eastern Iowa who, for several years (off and on), lived in a 2007 Chevy cargo van. I still travel around Iowa with my tortoise shell cat, Jennifer Stefanie. Our favorite place to explore is the Country Heritage Community, the four far northeastern counties of Iowa (Clayton, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Fayette). Ride along as we fish in pristine trout streams, enjoy fine home cooked camping meals, and meet new people. It's all possible on a shoestring budget. Happy travels always! --- Brad, the "Van Trekker"

2 Responses to Iowa Trout Fishing Part 1 — About the Equipment

  1. Jo Harmon says:

    Pretty informative blog. Nice string of fish you and you Grandmother had there

    • VanTrekker says:

      Hi Jo! It’s kind of fun taking a step back and writing about the tiny bit of knowledge accumulated over the years. I hope to be trout fishing in a couple weeks to try other techniques.

      I will send you an email privately. I had an at home medical test go very badly. Everything is getting better. There will more outings soon. Take care!